How did the music industry do in '85? It's probably still too early to tell for sure, although one key indicator--the number of platinum and gold record certifications--was up across the board. However, it's a little easier to follow the trends at individual record companies. Using chart positions, sales figures and interviews with industry experts, Pop Eye takes a look at how 14 major labels performed last year (with chart assistance from Billboard's Paul Grein).
A&M;: One of the smaller big labels in the industry, A&M; still managed several key successes, most notably Sting's debut solo album, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles," which is nearing 2 million, and Bryan Adams' "Reckless" album, which is at about 3.8 million and still climbing. There were strong showings from ex-Time guitarist Jesse Johnson, the "Breakfast Club" sound track, Amy Grant and revived British popsters OMD. But there was little success with several highly touted projects, including a Billy Crystal record and a Squeeze reunion album, which flopped--as did the Supertramp album, which never cracked the Top 20.
ARISTA: Though the subject of numerous corporate-merger rumors, Arista managed an impressive year, thanks to a series of major pop hits from its strong black roster. Arista broke both Whitney Houston, whose current LP is nearing the 2.5-million mark, and Billy Ocean, whose "Suddenly" album has passed the 2-million level. It also landed Aretha Franklin her first platinum album, and established rap act Whodini. Biggest disappointments: the Thompson Twins, whose LP hasn't cracked the Top 20; Ray Parker Jr., who released a lackluster album before leaving the label; Air Supply; the Alan Parsons Project, and the "Perfect" sound track.
ATLANTIC: It's hard to have a bad year with a hit machine like Phil Collins. Atlantic scored a total of five No. 1 singles, three from Collins, whose "No Jacket Required" album sold more than 4 million. Other No. 1 hits came from John Paar ("St. Elmo's Fire") and Foreigner ("I Want to Know What Love Is"). The heavy-metal contingent performed well, but Atlantic's aging rockers turned in disappointing showings. The much-ballyhooed Firm (with Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers) couldn't crack the Top 15, while Robert Plant failed to hit the Top 10 for the first time in his career. The label's new Stevie Nicks album is sizzling, but its Roger Daltrey and Laura Branigan records were major flops.
CAPITOL: This company in transition climaxed its topsy-turvy year with a stunning, chart-topping comeback from Heart, a band once given up for dead. Impressive showings came from Duran Duran spinoff groups the Power Station and Arcadia, and a pair of new artists: Freddie Jackson, whose debut is approaching 2 million, and Katrina & the Waves, who scored a Top 10 single. Biggest flops: the Motels, the Tubes and George Clinton. Capitol also fumbled a pair of sound tracks, "View to a Kill" and "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome." Each had a huge hit single, but barely inched onto the Top 40 album charts.
COLUMBIA: The industry giant had hefty '85 sales from a pair of 1984 records, Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.," which has passed 10 million, and Wham!'s "Make It Big," which is nearing 3.5 million. The label also established several young artists, including Paul Young, Philip Bailey, the Hooters and Eddie Murphy, and revived the career of Loverboy, which had a platinum comeback album. Speaking of revived recording careers, label veteran Barbra Streisand is having her best showing in five years with "The Broadway Album," No. 4 on the chart. The label also suffered some expensive disappointments, most notably its "Goonies" sound track and its inability to break highly touted young rockers Cock Robin. Other bombs included new albums from Men at Work, Kenny Loggins and Maurice White.
ELEKTRA/ASYLUM: A lackluster year that did little to defuse rumors that the label may eventually be absorbed into Atlantic Records. Elektra had a major hit with its Motley Crue album, which is nearing sales of 2 million, as well as respectable showings from Howard Jones, Midnight Star, Dokken and the Cars. Otherwise, it was a lean year, with disappointing outings from Chain Reaction and Graham Parker, which the company spent considerable money trying to establish.
EMI/AMERICA: It was a rebuilding year for this label, which went through several executive changes, overhauled its A&R; department and jettisoned many artists. The company really didn't have a major hit, though a Sheena Easton album from 1984 sold well (thanks to its notorious hit, "Sugar Walls") and Corey Hart had considerable success. The label also won some credibility for Kate Bush, but John Waite, Kim Carnes, Greg Kihn and Phantom, Rocker & Slick were flops.
EPIC: The sales just keep coming for Luther Vandross, who had his fourth consecutive platinum album with "The Night I Fell in Love," despite his continued failure to score a pop hit. Epic also broke Sade (who had two hit albums) and 'Til Tuesday, one of the label's most promising young acts. Two groups whose albums were released in late '84, Survivor and REO Speedwagon, also sold well in '85, with REO's album topping the 1.6-million mark. Epic had several expensive flops, most notably an album from Carly Simon (who has reportedly already been dropped from the roster), as well as disappointments from Jeff Beck, Adam Ant and the Clash.
GEFFEN: You know it was a bad year when an industry expert updates the old joke and says that the only difference between Geffen and the Titanic was that the ship had a better band. The label has already revamped its promotion department, and with good reason. The only real successes were Don Henley's album, which passed 1.5 million, and the "Vision Quest" sound track, which went platinum even after the movie bombed. Lone Justice's debut made a respectable showing, but most of Geffen's other lesser-known acts faltered badly, especially Eric Carmen and the Style Council. The label still has hopes for recently released albums by Aerosmith, Asia and Elton John, but the latter two have made a sluggish start.
MCA: Has a lock on comeback label of the year. Once the joke of the record business, the company had a banner year thanks to a trio of sound-track albums: "Beverly Hills Cop" (which passed 2 million), "Back to the Future" and "Miami Vice," the shocker of the year, which has sold 3.5 million copies and earned MCA its first No. 1 album in 10 years. There were strong comebacks from Tom Petty and Glenn Frey as well as a platinum album from Night Ranger. With much of the credit going to exec Jheryl Busby, the label also broke several new black artists, including Ready for the World, Klymaxx and New Edition. Biggest failures were in the pop department, which had flops from Melissa Manchester and Olivia Newton-John, who had her worst chart showing of the decade.
MOTOWN: The small label doesn't need many hits to have a good year. And last year all it really needed was Stevie Wonder's "In Square Circle," which has already topped the 2-million mark, and Lionel Richie's 1984 release, "Can't Slow Down," which has sold remarkably well all year and has passed a phenomenal 10 million in sales. Motown enjoyed success with DeBarge (with a pair of Top 10 pop hits), the Mary Jane Girls and the revitalized Commodores. The only flops came from Rick James, Rockwell and the sound track from "The Last Dragon."
POLYGRAM: The big success here was Tears for Fears, whose "Songs From the Big Chair" album sold more than 3 million copies, propelled by a trio of Top 5 singles. Other major successes: Kool & the Gang, which also had three Top 10 singles last year; John Cougar Mellencamp's "Scarecrow" album, which is already past 2 million, and Rush, whose "Power Windows" album went Top 10. Respectable sales: the revived Kiss, Bon Jovi and the Scorpions, whose double live album has reached the 850,000 sales mark without the benefit of a tour. Biggest flops were from Dexy's Midnight Runners and Sandra Bernhard. ABC and Godley & Creme had hit singles but mediocre LP sales.
RCA: Despite its unusually low profile, the label managed to break a new band, Mr. Mister, and revive a dormant one, the Starship, both of which scored No. 1 singles. It also had another major hit from Eurythmics, though the album's sales potential was hurt by the group's failure to tour. Disappointments included a mega-flop from Diana Ross and lackluster outings from Kenny Rogers and the Pointer Sisters, whose "Contact" album fell off from the group's past series of hits. Still, the label's new president, Elliot Goldman, remains optimistic. He recently boasted that RCA can challenge CBS Records (which includes Columbia and Epic) for top U.S label honors.
WARNER BROS.: The industry's other giant had an impressive year, thanks to huge sales by Madonna (whose "Like a Virgin" album topped 6 million), Dire Straits (nearing 4 million) and Talking Heads, which had its first platinum album with "Little Creatures." The label also had a platinum EP from David Lee Roth and gold records from Morris Day, Dio and newcomers A-Ha. Prince's "Around the World in a Day" album was a more qualified success, since it has neared the 3-million mark but still sold less than a third of his previous album, "Purple Rain." The new ZZ Top album, "Afterburner," is also nearing the 2-million mark and is the highest-charting record of the group's career. WB still had several major flops, including albums by Christopher Cross and Michael McDonald.